The general in charge of Air Force Special Operations Command said Tuesday that he is slowing plans to retire aging AC-130s to meet operational demands until a new version of the gunship is ready to go.

Lt. Gen. Bradley A. Heithold said at the annual NDIA Special Operation Low Intensity Combat, or SOLIC, symposium in Washington that the AC-130J, which will feature a 30mm side-mounted gun and precision guided missiles, won’t be ready in time to sustain the operation requirement. Heithold said he has also ordered the return of the 105mm artillery cannon for the J variant that had also been on earlier iterations.

Because of operational demands, Heithold said he is looking to “buy back legacy” aircraft to maintain the capability and lower risk. He said plans to retire two of the AC-130U variants in fiscal 2016 will be halted, drawing the line at 14 of the aircraft commonly referred to in the singular form as “Spooky.” Twelve of the AC-130W “Stinger” gunships will help sustain the capability too, he said.

“I am going to hold the line at 26,” Heithold told reporters after his presentation. He said he expects the legacy aircraft to continue flying for anywhere between five to eight additional years.

The Air Force retired three AC-130Us in fiscal 2015. Heithold said he is looking at the possibility of keeping them on as well, at least in the form of backup aircraft rather sending them to the bone yard.  He acknowledged, however, it may be too late to do that.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] is the prime contractor for the AC-130J, which is based on its C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft. During the Vietnam War, some of them were converted to gunships by adding high powered guns and artillery cannons to precisely unload on enemy ground targets.

The 105mm artillery cannon that is known for shaking the entire aircraft when it fires was initially not going to be brought back on the J variants. But Heithold said shortly after taking his command last summer he decided that the cannon should be included.

He said the 105s will be taken off legacy aircraft and fitted onto the 37 AC-130Js. Two of the new aircraft are already in testing and don’t have the cannons, but Heithold said he wants them to be retrofitted with the capability as well.

The first AC-130J will be in a Block 10 configuration with subsequent block upgrades planned. Eventually, the Air Force wants to put a directed energy weapons on the aircraft, such as a high powered laser.

“The technology is getting to the point where I think it is mature enough,” he told the symposium.